Dangers of Ketamine: Ketamine Addiction

special k ketamine
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By: Renaissance Recovery

Clinically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated:


Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

Ketamine is a prescription drug that physicians administer as a general anesthetic to induce loss of consciousness.

If ketamine is used in a clinical setting, the effects include:

  • Sedation
  • Decreased sensitivity to pain

Ketamine is classified as a Schedule III non-narcotic. The substance is only approved by the FDA for use as a general anesthetic. Occasionally, physicians will prescribe ketamine off-label to treat the symptoms of depression.

Although ketamine is considered generally safe when used in a controlled clinical setting, any recreational abuse of ketamine can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Today’s guide explores the many dangers of ketamine.

Need help getting Ketamine addiction treatment?

What is Ketamine?

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic prescribed by doctors to trigger general anesthesia when a medical procedure does not call for muscle relaxation.

Like all dissociative anesthetics, ketamine induces a sleep-like state , as well as feelings of disconnectedness. People have reported near-death experiences after taking large doses of ketamine.

The DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) categorizes ketamine as a Schedule III controlled substance. Ketamine is not a narcotic – an opioid-based drug – and it is not a barbiturate either.

In the United States, ketamine has been available in the branded form Ketalar since the 1970s. The drug is used for both human and veterinary applications. You can find prescription ketamine in these forms:

  • Clear and colorless liquid
  • Nasal spray
  • Off-white powder
  • Intravenous injectable

People frequently abuse ketamine for its dissociative properties. Like other medications in this class, ketamine can bring about distortions of:

  • Sights
  • Sounds
  • Self
  • Colors
  • Environment

Ketamine is abused by the following routes of administration:

  • Smoking
  • Snorting
  • Injecting

Regardless of how it is ingested, ketamine can provoke the manifestation of hallucinations similar to the hallucinations associated with PCP (angel dust) and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide).

There are many street names for illicit ketamine, including:

  • Special K
  • Vitamin K
  • Jet K
  • Cat Valium
  • Ket
  • K

Esketamine – marketed under the brand name Spravato, gained FDA approval in 2019 for treating adults diagnosed with TRD (treatment-resistant depression) who are suffering from acute suicidal ideation. Esketamine must be delivered by a medical professional under controlled conditions.

Ketamine is also available as the branded drug Ketaset. This is a surgical anesthetic administered by veterinarians.

How is Ketamine Used?

Doctors prescribe ketamine to trigger general anesthesia. The drug can be used alone or in combination with nitrous oxide or other general anesthetics. Ketamine almost immediately induces short-term sedation.

If ketamine is abused, the drug acts as a dissociative hallucinogenic and a tranquilizer. Ingesting ketamine in any form will prompt a sense of relaxation and a euphoric high lasting for an hour.

When ketamine is abused in higher doses, this can lead to the presentation of an effect nicknamed the K-hole. If an individual enters a K-hole, they will become temporarily unable to interact with their environment and others around them. Environmental awareness and motor control will both be drastically impaired, triggering intense feelings of disconnection.

Many people attempting to enter a K-hole accidentally overdose on the drug. The tranquilizing properties of ketamine can bring about respiratory failure and total loss of mobility.

The main adverse outcomes associated with ketamine abuse include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Raised blood pressure levels
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Hallucinations
  • Flashbacks
  • Respiratory issues
  • Paranoia
  • Long-term cognitive complications
  • Depression

Even a single small dose of ketamine can cause the following sustained side effects that can last for a day or so:

  • Impaired coordination
  • Stumbling and loss of motor control
  • Muscle weakness

Is ketamine addiction likely to develop after sustained abuse, though?


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Is Ketamine Addictive?

Ketamine is a Schedule III non-narcotic that causes both pain-relieving and mental effects. The chronic use of ketamine can lead to the development of tolerance and dependence, as well as ketamine addiction.

If you become addicted to ketamine, using the substance may become a central part of your life. Like all substance use disorders (drug addictions), ketamine addiction is a chronic and incurable condition. That said, most ketamine addictions respond positively to evidence-based inpatient or outpatient treatment – more on this below.

Some common red flags for ketamine addiction are as follows:

  • Insomnia
  • Frequent state of distraction
  • Difficulties with concentration and focus
  • Fatigue
  • Persistent drowsiness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Reduced sensitivity to pain
  • Slurred speech
  • Incontinence
  • Redness of the skin
  • Reduced motivation
  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal symptoms

Like all substance use disorders, ketamine addiction is defined by a preoccupation with ketamine and compulsive use of ketamine regardless of negative outcomes.

Is ketamine deadly, then?

Can Ketamine Kill You?

Although deaths from ketamine abuse occur, there is little information available in the public domain about these fatalities.

The symptoms of ketamine overdose are dose-dependent. Low doses of the drug are associated with dissociation and euphoria, while high doses often lead to immobility, profound sedation, and hallucinations.

Ketamine overdose symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Excessive salivation
  • Lethargy
  • Lockjaw
  • Diminished pain sensitivity
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Profound sedation
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Psychosis
  • Respiratory depression
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizure
  • Life-threatening coma

Respiratory depression is one of the most hazardous signs of ketamine overdose. When this occurs, the area of the brain that controls breathing is suppressed, causing breathing to become irregular and dangerously slow. This can lead to unconsciousness and coma. Possible complications include irreversible brain damage. Ketamine overdose is a medical emergency and can be fatal without prompt intervention.

How to Fight Ketamine Addiction

An image of a man overcoming ketamine addiction

If you develop an addiction to ketamine, the first step in the recovery process is detoxification.

It is inadvisable and potentially dangerous to withdraw from ketamine at home. If you engage with the services offered by a licensed medical detox center, you will have medications to mitigate withdrawal symptoms, and you will also have emotional and clinical care on hand to ensure that cravings and complications can be dealt with expediently.

Once you have detoxed from ketamine – more on this directly below – you will be ready to commit to an inpatient or outpatient treatment program at a reputable substance abuse treatment center. 

Ketamine Withdrawal

Most ketamine withdrawal symptoms are psychological. Although some chronic users of ketamine have reported the presentation of physical withdrawal symptoms, there is currently no evidence base supporting these claims.

The most frequently reported withdrawal symptoms experienced during ketamine detox are:

  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Nausea
  • Rage
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Psychosis
  • Delusions and hallucinations
  • Reduced cardiac and respiratory functions
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Hearing loss
  • Cognitive impairment

A supervised medical detox offers the smoothest route to recovery from ketamine dependence and addiction.

The ketamine withdrawal process lasts from a few days to a few weeks. While not generally considered life-threatening, withdrawal can be intensely uncomfortable. Most symptoms will set in from 24 hours to 72 hours after the last use of ketamine. The duration of ketamine withdrawal depends on the following factors:

  • Amount of ketamine in the system.
  • Tolerance to ketamine.
  • Duration of ketamine abuse.
  • Amount of ketamine abuse.
  • Other drugs being abused.

While all cases of ketamine withdrawal are unique, here is an approximate timeline:

  • Days 1 to 3 of ketamine detox: You can expect acute withdrawal symptoms to manifest within 24 hours of the last dose of ketamine. Symptoms will include rage, fatigue, tremors, depression, nausea, double vision, hearing loss, rapid breathing, and insomnia. These symptoms can be distressing and challenging to manage in a non-clinical setting.
  • Days 4 to 14 of ketamine detox: Some withdrawal symptoms may linger for up to two weeks but should subside after this time.
  • Day 15 and onwards of ketamine detox: Some psychological issues may persist if chronic ketamine use has damaged nerve cells in your brain.

Ketamine Addiction Treatment

The most effective treatment for ketamine addiction involves behavioral interventions like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and counselling. We can help you initiate your recovery here at Renaissance Recovery in Orange County.

We specialize in the outpatient treatment of ketamine addiction, allowing you to engage with rehab without requiring a month or more away from personal and professional commitments. We offer programs at the following levels of intensity:

  • OPs (standard outpatient programs delivering up to 3 hours of therapy sessions each week.
  • IOPs (intensive outpatient programs delivering up to 15 hours of therapy sessions each week.
  • PHPs (partial hospitalization programs delivering up to 35 hours of therapy sessions each week.

If you are unable or unwilling to access our luxury rehab in Orange County, we provide virtual treatment with counseling and psychotherapy available via videoconferencing.

All Renaissance Recovery addiction treatment programs draw from these EBTs (evidence-based therapies):

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Individual counselling
  • Group counseling
  • Psychotherapy (CBT or DBT)
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic therapies

When you complete your program at Renaissance, you will leave equipped with relapse prevention strategies, a robust aftercare plan, and access to the Renaissance Recovery alumni program.If you are ready to move beyond ketamine addiction, reach out to admissions by calling 866.330.9449.

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“They truly cared for me and the other people that I served with! From this group, I have made 8 new brothers and friends for life! We have continued on, after the program, to take care of each other”

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“Great staff who took the time to get to know me. They have a lot of experience in this field and have first hand experience with what I was going through. IOP is outstanding and really built up a ton of great relationships and found this program to be a ‘breath of fresh air’.”

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.